Earth Lodge Village


I was excited this week to visit the earth lodge village west of New Town, North Dakota. These are replicas of earth lodges--"awahte"-- built by the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people. My cousin Bonnie, who has toured similar lodges near Mandan, North Dakota, and granddaughter went with me.

A closeup of the steps built of half-logs.

These circular dwellings were quite perfect for the weather of North Dakota. The sod insulated the house from the summer heat and from the winter cold. The women built, except for the men's assistance in erecting a central support, and maintained them. According to Bonnie's tour guide in Mandan, girls started at age eight to learn the construction. These homes were rebuilt about every ten years.

Cottonwood trees were cut for the central posts. In these pictures, pine outlines the sides, but I'd think the originals must have been small cottonwood, ash or other trees native to the area.

Willow branches go between the roof pieces. Here straw is used, but in the olden days, they covered this frame with dry prairie grass. Sod covered the dried grass layer. They were strong enough for adults to walk on the top.

The ones in this village were about 20-30 feet in diameter, with one larger ceremonial lodge. Bonnie said replicas are not allowed to be as large as the originals were--between 30-60 feet across. The size was determined by the length of the trees in the area.

Each earth lodge housed 10-20 people, usually relatives. A small corral to the side often held cattle and prized horses.

The fire pit lies in the center. A hole above the fire allowed smoke to escape. A basket-shaped frame of willow that was covered with buffalo hide would be dragged over the hole to protect the lodge from heavy snow or rain, and dragged off to release smoke or to allow sunshine inside.

Although the doorway is open, a wooden windbreak inside the entrance provided protection from the storms.

Beds outlined the room. Animal skins hung in front of them for privacy and warmth.

Wooden houses gradually phased out these old dwellings in the later 1800s.

I was thoroughly impressed with the design of an earth lodge!

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